LAWRENCE -- The city always answers calls to arms.
A new exhibit in the Lawrence Heritage State Park gallery looks back at the 6,000 city residents who fought in the Great War — the War to end all Wars — and remembers them and those who were killed.
The WW I exhibit also considers ways in which mass media, in its infancy, fueled support for the fighting; and the financial and emotional contributions from everyday Lawrence residents on the home front.
"Lawrence Takes Up The Cause: The U.S. Enters World War I" commemorates the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into WW I.
"The story I want to tell is that Lawrence has always been a very patriotic city, and has done more than its fair share," said Richard Padova, the exhibit's curator, a Northern Essex Community College history professor.
Incorporated in 1853, Lawrence exceeded its quota in the Civil War from 1861-65, providing 2,617 volunteers and draftees. It took up the call for arms early in the Spanish-American War in 1898, providing some of the first volunteers after it broke out.
And of the 6,000 Lawrence men who served in WWI, 200 died fighting and an unknown number suffered injuries, some of them shortening their lives. The city numbered about 90,000 residents in 1917.
Lawrencians to remember
The first item that visitors to the upstairs' gallery see is a 48-star American flag from the former Cardillo-Campagnone Brothers Post #1 on Newbury Street in Lawrence. One of the namesakes, Benjamin Cardillo, a corporal in Company C, 326th Infantry, 82nd Division, was killed in WW I.
He died Oct. 14, 1918, from wounds received in action in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. The Campagnone brothers – Albert, Bernard and Carmen – were all killed in action during WW II; the Campagnone Common in downtown Lawrence is named for them.
A corner in the Jackson Street gallery holds local Honor Rolls, on loan by the Lawrence History Center, a co-sponsor of the exhibit.
These decorative lists, on paper or wood, bear names of those who died at war from Lawrence neighborhoods, churches, schools or organizations.
An exhibit case holds the diary of Philip O’Connell, a surgical assistant in the 39th Infantry, 4th Division, who was killed in action Aug. 1,1918.
The South Lawrence Common was renamed as a park in O'Connell's memory.
Padova plans to add to the exhibit a master list of local squares or parks named after WW I veterans from Lawrence.
Among them is Evans Park at the corner of Forest and Crescent streets, named for Frederick Evans,
There is also Costello Park at Shawsheen Road in South Lawrence, named for Edmund Costello.
And there is the Samuel Bunting Bridge, over the Spicket River by way of Lawrence Street, named after Samuel Bunting, whose injuries in WWI contributed to his death at the age of 35 in 1933.
And Riley Park, part of Riverfront State Park — overseen by the Department of Conservation & Recreation, also overseer of Lawrence Heritage State Park — is named for Philip Riley.
He was a private and a cook with Battery C, an artillery unit largely made up of Lawrence men. Riley's war-related injuries in France sent his health in steady decline as he returned to Lawrence, dying at age 34 in 1929.
Some local site markers are hidden by grass and weeds.
WWI was sometimes referred to as the Chemist's War. The combatants' use of chemical weapons marked the first time these weapons were unleashed large scale on battlefields, causing 1.2 million casualties, including 90,000 deaths.
Many of those who survived gas attacks endured terrible after-effects for years.
Support and opposition
The United States originally was reluctant to join the first global war, reluctance pronounced in communities, including Lawrence, with large immigrant populations tied to Europe, Padova said.
The world war broke out in 1914, pitting the United Kingdom, France and Russia against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ultimately claiming 17 million lives and causing 20 million injuries before its end in 1918.
At least one placard in the exhibit declares local opposition to the war and its profiteers, the Lawrence Lithuanians, expressing the antipathy many Americans felt toward committing sons to European battlefields.
The exhibit's posters, pamphlets, photographs, post cards and a letter home, as well as a uniform, hand grenade, and ceremonial sword tell Great War stories and how the Immigrant City delivered outsize support in men and money.
In the third Liberty Loan drive to help fund the war, Lawrence delivered 31,000 subscribers, almost one-third of the city's population, Padova said.
Nationwide, four liberty loan drives raised about $17 billion to fund the war effort though the average American saw them as a risky investment.
The drives were promoted by celebrities, window stickers, buttons and posters — some of which are on display at the exhibit.
Padova also says that Lawrence gave generously to American Red Cross drives. More than 21,000 people joined the organization in Lawrence.
Residents supported the work of the YMCA, Knights of Columbus and several other organizations on behalf of soldiers and civilians struggling in war-torn Europe. School kids, churches, societies and individuals knitted and sent clothing to soldiers.
They wrote letters and sent postcards, too. The exhibit includes mass produced postcards illustrated with doughboys — as U.S. service members were called in WW I — and generic headings such as "From a girl in," and "A Message From," and "We're sure thinking of you."
A white flag labeled with the Lawrence, Mass., identifier distinguished it from otherwise identical post cards sent to soldiers from elsewhere in the nation.
"Lawrence contributed generously and wholeheartedly in men, money and labor," Padova said.
Lawrence also contributed leaders to WW I, including Gen. Edward Sirois, for whom the Interstate 93 bridge over the Merrimack River connecting Methuen and Andover is named.
The exhibit includes Sirois' WW I uniform. He belonged to Battery C, 102nd Field Artillery, 26th Division. It was known as the Yankee Division of Lawrence.
At least eight of the unit’s Lawrence natives were killed in France in 1917-18 or later died of their wounds.
Sirois also served as a consultant in China during World War II. He was grand marshal of Lawrence's God and Country Parade in 1962.
Methuen resident Joseph Bella lent Sirois' medals, wool uniform, and sword to the exhibit.
"It is fascinating to see a local person accomplish so much in a lifetime," Bella said earlier.
Bella, who grew up in Lawrence, is a Vietnam War veteran. He served in the Army in field artillery near the DMZ in Vietnam.
Other contributors to the exhibit include Padova, Haverhill historian Tom Spitalere, Heritage Park maintenance worker Charlie Baz and Lawrence resident Jonas Stundzia
The Jackson Street exhibit was a year in the making and runs through Aug. 15.
The Lawrence Public Library has a follow-up exhibit on WWI planned for later this year.
The library exhibit will include World War I-era posters that once hung in Lawrence and rallied support for the war effort.